Palestinian activist and media darling Linda Sarsour's credibility depends on the ignorance of her audience. She knows that the larger share of her supporters have little knowledge of Middle Eastern history or the complex nuances of geopolitics. So, when she disingenuously declared to a room of some 500 fawning NYU millennials recently that "BDS is a non-violent movement" and spoke of "co-existence and peace" between Jews and Muslims "before the creation of the state of Israel," she knew she wouldn't be held accountable for her lies.
Sarsour's speech at NYU was not only riddled with falsehoods, bigotry, and hypocrisy but also soaked in narcissism and glowing self-references. In the span of 90 minutes, she managed to describe herself as a "cycle breaker," twice as a "visionary," a "leader in the progressive moment," a "symbol of intersectionality," "at the center of every big fight," and "someone who's trained in Kingian nonviolence" who merely wishes "to speak some truth."
To compliment these delusions of grandeur, she sprinkled her talk with messianic assertions conveying false humility, including coy comments such as:
"This idea that I should be the champion for everybody in the world is unrealistic."
"The fact that somebody like me can just attract this kind of controversy is really interesting."
"Stop worrying about what I say. I'm just one person."
Sarsour's megalomania aside, her speech came across as a mere idealistic call for peace, love, and social justice. But contrast it with previous comments Sarsour has made on the record, and it becomes glaringly obvious that Sarsour speaks from both sides of her mouth.
When she inaccurately proclaimed the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel to be a "nonviolent movement" and was met with an enthusiastic applause from the audience, it was clear her supporters hadn't done much research on the topic. If they had, they would know that the movement's founder, Omar Barghouti, has argued that "armed resistance" is legitimate and that Jews "are not a people," despite their shared religion, culture, language, and nation state.
The original BDS document from 2005, the Palestinian Civil Society Call for BDS, categorically denies the right of Israel to exist within any borders, revealing its genocidal and eliminationist ambition of destroying the one and only Jewish-majority nation, among more than 50 Muslim-majority countries.
The BDS movement is a continuation of the tactic of Nazi boycotts of Jewish-owned businesses, which is why hundreds of Holocaust survivors have publicly repudiated Sarsour: "What Linda Sarsour advocates for – boycotts against Jewish businesses in Israel and random acts of violence against the innocent – are no different than the things that we personally experienced," wrote one group of survivors.
Sarsour's supporters don't care that BDS worsens the socio-economic status of Palestinians and does nothing to improve human rights conditions in the West Bank or Gaza. BDS prevents Palestinians and Israelis from working and learning together, from familiarizing themselves with one another, and thus from seeing the other as human. In this way, BDS is damaging to the peace process and hinders reconciliation. Even Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, has disavowed BDS.
Not only Palestinians would suffer if BDS objectives were realized. Anyone who wants to truly boycott Israel would have to give up their cell phones, all computers with Intel or Ivy Bridge processors, all Windows XT and Microsoft operating systems, all anti-virus software and personal firewalls, all outgoing emails, all voicemail systems, SMS texting, Facebook, AOL, Video on Demand, many search engines used on the internet, data storage and e-books, electric cars, drip irrigation and agricultural technology, and much of the treatment and medication used to diagnose and treat patients for cancer, HIV, diabetes, emphysema, myeloma, sleep apnea, dyslexia, skin allergies, epilepsy, heart and liver disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's, stroke, and Parkinson's. All of these technologies or research originated in Israel.
That Sarsour's pro-BDS spiel lacks depth is unsurprising, given her own apparent ignorance of Jewish/Muslim history in the Middle East. Sarsour emphasized her grandmother sentimentalizing about a time "before the creation of the state of Israel" in which Muslims lived "in coexistence and peace with Jews." In citing her grandmother's stories as her sources of information and not providing a single objective fact, Sarsour professes historical knowledge while, in truth, disseminating nothing more than an uneducated emotional version of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Does Sarsour's idea of coexistence include the 1929 Hebron Massacre and the 1936-1939 Arab revolts, which resulted in pogroms against the Jewish population in Palestine? What kind of coexistence includes Jews having to live as "dhimmis," or second-class citizens, in Arab lands for hundreds of years?
It is instead in modern Israel where we see real evidence of coexistence. Jews and Muslims work together, live together, play together, attend school together, and serve in Parliament together. Poll after poll reveals that the vast majority of Arabs would rather live in democratic Israel than in any neighboring Muslim-majority country or even in a future state of Palestine.
At several points throughout Sarsour's speech, she exploited the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to support her claims about oppressed people and minorities, conveniently omitting that King was actually a staunch Zionist who said, "When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You're talking anti-Semitism." King viewed Zionism as the Jewish civil rights movement mirrored in his own people's struggle for equal rights. King understood that Jews are one of the world's oldest indigenous people whose historical and continual roots in the land of Israel are incontestable.
Contrary to King's universalist message and non-violent ideology (which she now claims to be trained in), when Sarsour, a Palestinian-American, spoke about being "ready to die for the things that" she believes in, she employed the same language of self-destruction present in the radical Islamist factions of Palestinian and Muslim society. Dying for the cause, no matter what the cause, is a central component of Palestinian martyrdom ideology.
Sarsour assumed a new persona at NYU, embracing an all-inclusive attitude, a far cry from the divisive and intolerant rhetoric she typically employs when speaking of those with different viewpoints.
"The movement is a place where everyone gets heard," she professed. "Everybody's welcome to the table."
She even admonished the crowd about the dangers of being close-minded: "It's not going to go well for you if you think that coming to the movement requires that you put conditions on the people in the movement."
Yet Sarsour, time and again, has been explicit about the fact that not everyone is welcome into her so-called "progressive" movement. She once warned of "limits to the type of friendships" she was prepared to accept and made clear that those who do not support BDS were not welcome. She also affirmed that feminism and Zionism are incompatible, verbally excluding anyone who believes in Jewish self-determination in their ancestral homeland from participating in the Women's March.
Sarsour claimed during her speech that she is not a leftist and does not "allow people to put any labels on" her. Ironically, Sarsour is trigger happy to label anyone who disagrees with her as racist, Islamophobic, xenophobic, a colonialist, a white supremacist, or a fascist. Scroll through Sarsour's twitter account, and one may witness the frivolous use of these terms. Instead of engaging in civil discourse, she relies on character assassinations and name-calling to make her case.
The intersectional movement that Sarsour subscribes to carelessly ascribes shaming labels to their enemies in an effort to silence and shut down freedom of speech. They then perversely cite their first amendment rights when called out for their bullying tactics. Intersectionality relies on identity politics to perpetuate a sense of victimhood and create a false hierarchy of oppression. Consider this failure of reasoning by Sarsour:
"People of color are the most directly impacted by injustice. So guess who wants justice first: the people impacted by the injustice, so I want to follow the people who are trying to get to the justice first, and that is going to be the people who are the most pained, traumatized, and broke in our country, and they are often times poor people of color and members of other marginalized communities."
There are many problems with Sarsour's intersectional world view. Who decides who is the most "broken" and "pained" and "traumatized?" Also, not all grievances are equally just. And not all underlying inequalities in society are due to racism. There are certainly injustices that exist, but they can only be addressed when examined individually. When airbrushed into one arc of oppression, as Sarsour's grievances are, they appear as little more than empty and unexamined claims of victimhood.
As the late Samuel Johnson once wrote, "All shallows are clear." Sarsour's diatribes skim the surface, using loaded buzz words and slick talking points as a political tool to disarm her audience. Her simple-minded opportunism and sanctimonious, holier-than-thou attitude have no place in the universal struggle for human rights. To dichotomize the social polity between the haves and have-nots, the oppressed and oppressors, the underprivileged and privileged is an easy way to view the world, but it disregards nuance and thoughtful analysis. Ultimately, it is this adolescent moral outrage that is dividing our fragile nation even more than it already is.